The Apicenter


The Apicenter


Shawn Barron
Iowa State University

Saranya Panchaseelan
Iowa State University


Ulrike Passe
Iowa State University



 This winning project is an example of a strong retrofit with an eye toward environmental concerns. The apiary/community center idea is excellent and shows good thought into the use of materials. The aspirations of this project are appreciated, and the endeavor to address larger environmental and social issues, such as colony collapse disorder, are commendable.


This project seeks to recover bee populations and to revive a dwindling town.

For decades, managed bee colonies in the United States have been steadily dying for reasons ranging from harsh winter conditions, toxic agricultural pesticides and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In 2015, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois suffered losses to managed hives calculated at over 60%, while half of the other 47 states saw losses of at least 40%. Managed colonies not only constitute a 15-billion-dollar pollination industry, but also play a vital role in the health of the Earth’s flora by pollinating 30% of human cultivated crops and 90% of wild plants. Faced with these dire statistics and the dire consequences that would follow in the wake of dwindling bee populations, our project, Apicenter, focuses on contributing to the revitalization and resiliency of honey bees and other bee species. Funding for this project could come in part from the Pollinator Partnership Action Plan, in which President Obama had set aside $82.5 million to support actions that reduce the losses to managed honey bee colonies, and to support the restoration of native pollinator habitats; both of which are primary goals in our design proposal.


Ogden, Iowa is a rural community of 2034 people. The project is an adaptive reuse of an elementary school facing closure due to a school district consolidation. Ogden has recently been experiencing a dwindling population as young adults and businesses move elsewhere. By establishing our program in this vacant school building, we hope to invigorate the town by creating new jobs, and giving the town a new image and future. The Apicenter will put Ogden back on the map and establish this community as one of the leading bee research centers in the United States. The adapted building will house eight research categories ranging from apitherapy, to immunology, to swarm intelligence. The building will also host educational and collaboration spaces, a small cafe and shop, and bee-product production facilities specializing in honey, wax products, cosmetics, mead and a hive box construction, to name a few. Through our design, an otherwise empty infrastructure is reclaimed and refitted to revive the town and give the residents of Ogden a facility and an industry to embrace. The Apicenter will be the epicenter of bee and community recovery alike.


The major design choices in the reuse of Howe Elementary, a 1950’s school that has been slowly drowned in renovations, focused on freeing the building from previous renovations that have severely degraded inhabitant comfort. The original structure was filled with daylight and cross ventilation due to ample clerestory windows, but subsequent renovations had sealed up these windows, blocking light and airflow. Restoring the original structure and unifying the building as one entity are the main goals in our adaptive strategy, which would allow us to establish a pleasant workspace for the buildings new inhabitants. To achieve this, many of the intermediary additions to the school are deconstructed; the materials of which are reused or recycled on site. By removing these cumbersome additions, the original building is restored to its day-lit and ventilated state, and our additions serve to further improve building efficiency.

Production spaces constitute the north end of the building in the old and new gymnasium spaces, while the research facilities are in the 1950’s classrooms at the south. Our addition then ties production to research, establishing a communal lounge between the two, and a collaboration and education space above the research facility.


Located near Ogden's main residential neighborhoods, and just a short walk from Main Street, the facility is easily accessible to the town. Apicenter as a community space establishes a new identity for Ogden, and through its educational programs, encourages locals to become hobbyist bee-keepers and gardeners, and to engage in a symbiotic ecological relationship within the town. By encouraging residents to grow their own produce, not only are the towns’ bees given a rich source of forage in each garden, but the residents will in turn generate a micro-agriculture industry to support the Iowan food desert, where nearly all fresh produce is shipped in from other states. Iowa may be known for its agriculture industry, but surprisingly, this production is mainly corn and soybeans that are not grown for human consumption.

Apicenter as production facility serves a regional economy of local farmers-markets and grocery stores in their demand for bee products such as honey, candles, and lip balm, among others. The facility also becomes an educational retreat for local schools, beekeepers, and anyone curious enough to pay a visit.

Apicenter as research facility and apiary serves the larger Midwest region as a center for pollinator research in supporting the health and resiliency of bees, as well as breeding and selling colonies to support beekeepers and farmers who depend upon bees for their livelihood - especially those who have suffered major losses to their managed bee populations.

Any research advancements made in the facility would have global importance and impact for bees and people alike.


The site is approximately 570,000 square feet - 13 acres - and is currently home to vacant athletic fields once used by the school. To support the needs of the many bee colonies that will be raised and studied by the Apicenter, the site will be restored to a natural prairie habitat - in which bees thrive. This ecological restoration will not only serve the needs of foraging bees, but will also become a sanctuary for other native plant and animal species fighting for survival amongst the highly controlled and homogenous agricultural lands that make up most Iowa’s landscape.


Ogden, Iowa falls on the line between Zone 5 and 6 in ASHRAE’s climate region map, which are characterized by hot, humid summers, and bitterly cold winters. Heating the space in the winter is the primary concern, but protection from the scorching summer sun also poses a challenge.

By using Climate Consultant and Ladybug for Grasshopper, we determined that only 6% of the year falls within the human comfort level. However, 42% comfort can be achieved through the application of geothermal heat exchange, desiccant humidification, natural ventilation, and internal heat gain. Nearly all spaces have user-controlled openings and shading devices, allowing for maximum user defined comfort. Due to the north-south orientation of the existing classroom and gymnasium buildings, designing for maximum passive solar gain was a major challenge, as it is difficult to harness the direct southern sun during the winter months. The greenhouse at the southern end receives the most solar exposure through south facing glazing, which allows for maximum heat gain in the winter, while excessive heat can be naturally ventilated in the summer. The floors and walls adjacent to the long line of windows in the lab spaces are made of concrete, which will act as a thermal mass, harvesting a limited but an optimum amount of heat during the winter when the sun is low.

A geothermal system consisting of forty-eight 250’ wells was part of the original construction, and this system plays a major role in maintaining comfortable temperatures in the building due to its ability to harness the Earth’s stable ~55° ground temperature. This allows the system to harness heat in the winter, and coolness in the summer, providing a significant decrease in heating and cooling costs as compared to a traditional system.


Because of the design of the original building and our restoration efforts, the renovated spaces receive ample daylighting. In places where the existing structure did not meet the desired conditions, small interventions were made, such as the opening of new clerestory windows, or the addition of small, operable windows at the human level. The main additions to the building focuses on allowing maximum light into the space, while preventing irritating glare. This is done by facing clerestory windows to the north, thereby allowing diffuse light to enter the workspaces, while at the same time tilting the roof to improve opportunities for photovoltaics. In total, 84% of the spaces can be entirely day-lit during occupied hours, additionally 95% of spaces have views to the restored prairies outside, and 95% of the spaces are within 15 feet of an operable window. These, allowing for maximum user defined comfort.


The water cycle will benefit from the topography of the site because the northern portion of the site sits at a lower altitude than much of the surrounding neighborhood. This area can hold approximately 115,000 cubic feet of water, which is significant because the city’s sewer system currently cannot handle runoff during intense precipitation events. The northern portion of the prairie will be allowed to flood during intense rainfall, which will remove a tremendous amount of strain from the city’s systems. In a 2 year, 24-hour rainfall event, this detention pond can manage 174% of on-site water, meaning all the water showered on the 13-acre property, as well as an additional 9.6 acres of catchment area will be held until the sewer system can handle it, or the water permeates through the soil. Captured roof water is collected in 25,000 gallon cisterns to be used for irrigation and in the facilities toilets, providing 100% of the non-potable water needs.


Natural ventilation in the north-south orientation allows users to stay cool during summer months, while the wider east-west production spaces at the north buffer the building from harsh winter winds.

The ground coupled heat pump has a capacity of 720 kBTU/hr, which is sized to serve a 55,000 square feet school, while the final area of The Apicenter is 35,000 square feet, denoting that the geothermal system will provide ample heating and cooling capacity. It will serve to condition the building in all except through the most extreme temperature conditions, in which case high efficiency mechanical systems will assist the passive systems.

Using Sefaira to generate an energy model, the calculated Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is 57 kBTU/ft². Using the geothermal system, maximized daylighting and minimized electric lighting, a system of photovoltaic panels generating 525,000 kWh/yr (as per PV-Watts Calculator), and a revamped insulation coat and triple glazing, our design achieves net-zero energy consumption.


Major focus was placed on reusing materials from the deconstructed buildings and the project inherently has a low carbon footprint as opposed to new construction. Where new materials were needed, we locally sourced timber and concrete to reduce the carbon footprint resulting from transportation, and wherever possible, structural steel from the existing building were repurposed. Aluminum roofing salvaged in one part of the building is reused on the new roofing system, while demolished brick and CMU block are reused as aggregate for new concrete and permeable paving surfaces.

The existing buildings which remain in the final design came packed with thermal bridges and poor insulation. Consequently, many spaces have been reskinned on either the interior or the exterior to create a continuous thermal break and promote efficiency and comfort.


The Apicenter renovation rectifies 60 years of passively detrimental additions, and in one gesture, clarifies the building into two sections split by a short axis running east-west, and unified by a long axis running north-south. Not only is adaptive reuse a living confirmation of long life, loose fit, but our interventions make it possible for the facility to operate as 5 separate buildings if necessary in the future. In our entire project, the entire length of newly constructed interior walls only totals 61 feet, signifying that the interior spaces are highly flexible to changes in program, and future needs.



The Apicenter is designed to serve as a proponent of ecological symbiosis by encouraging people to be aware of their place in the world and to understand how their actions can have a profound effect on the status of the environment. In the lobby of The Apicenter, a display wall will give inhabitants and visitors a running tally on how many hives the Apicenter has supplied, graphs showing the status and abundance of bees across the nation, as well as energy consumption and production statistics, to inform users on how the building is functioning and how efficiency can be improved through their efforts.

Apicenter will teach about bees and pollination, emphasizing their importance in the human food supply and ecosystems worldwide. The Apicenter is meant to be a center of ecological stewardship, environmental awareness, agricultural leadership, educational engagement, community involvement, and apiary resiliency.

This design exercise was tremendously valuable to us. Not only did we learn an array of new programs to analyze building efficiency and energy performance, but we also gained experience in dissecting old drawings and investigating the physical structure. It was only after touring the building twice, crawling through the roof structure, and pouring through blueprints from 1955 that we discovered the natural daylighting and ventilation features of the original structure, which were completely covered and invisible in the school. We also interviewed a local entomologist and bee expert, which proved immensely valuable in our research of bees and the practicality of our proposal. These learning experiences will continue with us as we move into professional practice, and we hope to be leaders in sustainable design among our peers.